By Mike Knight
With an ONS survey showing that from October to December 2019 and January to March 2022, homeworking in the UK more than doubled from 4.7 million to 9.9 million people, we take a closer look at the figures and what’s behind them.
COVID 19 Pandemic Triggered Huge Rise In Homeworking
With the UK government first asking people to work from home if they could on March 16, 2020, this triggered the rise in homeworking, then subsequently hybrid and flexible working. As the ONS figures show, the number of people working from home more than doubled, up by 108.8 percent to 9.9 million by March 2022.
Regional Variations – Scotland Had Biggest Increase
Although the number of homeworkers increased by more than 50 percent in all UK regions, Scotland saw the largest percentage increase, up 203.5 percent to 544,000 people, and Northern Ireland saw the smallest percentage increase, up 56.4 percent to 49,000 people.
That said, from January to March 2022, the areas with the highest percentage of homeworkers were in England. For example, unsurprisingly, London showed at 37.0 percent, 1.9 million homeworkers while the South East showed at 36.9 percent, 1.6 million. The third highest number were in the East of England (31.1 percent, 903,000 homeworkers).
Travelling To Work In Own Region Or Commuting Decreased
The huge increase in homeworking is supported by ONS figures which show that those travelling to a place of work in their own region fell considerably in the same period, with London showing the largest decrease (28.3%, down 1 million). Also, those commuting to work in a different region fell across the UK by 26.1 percent (down 629,000). Again, London showed the biggest decrease at 36.8% (down 367,000).
Most homeworkers are men (31 percent), up from 16 percent in 2019, compared to 29.9 percent of women – up from 12.3 percent.
Also, most homeworkers are older, 27.3 percent over 60 and 17.9 percent and 50 to 59 years, compared to 6.3 percent of 16 to 29 year-olds and 12 percent 30 to 39 year-olds. This is most likely connected to the jobs, e.g. type of job, position, role, and authority. For example, ONS figures show that those employed in skilled trade occupations were most likely to be working from home (24.8 percent), while those in sales and customer service occupations were least likely to be (4.2 percent). Also, those employed in professional occupations saw the largest increase in homeworking, 30.5 percentage points, rising from 12.9 percent in October to December 2019 to 43.4 per in January to March 2022. However, the number of process, plant, and machine operatives showed a small decrease in homeworking in 2022.
Flexible Working / Hybrid Working
As the pandemic rules were relaxed, hybrid working (i.e. spending some time at the office and some at home also) became a growing trend and something that replaced pure homeworking for many workers. For example, an Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) showed that when workers were asked about their future plans in February 2022, 8 in 10 workers who had to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic said they planned to hybrid work. In reality, hybrid working rose from 13 percent in early February 2022 to 24 percent in May 2022 while the percentage working exclusively from home fell from 22 percent to 14 percent in the same period.
The Effects Of Homeworking
Some of the most notable effects of the large shift to homeworking have included:
- Fast digital transformations for many businesses and the accompanying investment in the technology to enable successful home and hybrid working. This included a massive rise in downloads of remote and collaborative working and communication apps such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Google Workspace, Tencent Conference, and WeChat Work (China).
- Reports that working from home improved the work-life balance for workers. For example, OPN figures showed that more than three-quarters (78 percent) of those who worked from home in some capacity said that being able to work from home gave them an improved work-life balance (in February 2022).
- Businesses reviewed how much office space they needed, resulting in a reduction in office space for many businesses. In June 2021, for example, a PwC survey had found that half of UK businesses expected to reduce the size of their office space, and one-third expected to reduce it by 30 percent. Also, the remaining office space is now being used differently for many companies operating hybrid working.
- Recruitment challenges, e.g. hiring remotely, recruiting, and maintaining talent.
- A move off-premise for tech infrastructure. For example, in November 2021, research conducted by Vanson Bourne on behalf of Zen Internet showed that 93 percent of businesses already had a hybrid working plan in place to enable employees to work remotely, while 89 percent had their tech operations hosted off-premise
- An increase in cyber risk (via people working at home), the corresponding need to change security policies and practices, and insurance implications.
- Some businesses preferring and switching to hybrid working patterns, e.g. Axa announcing the adoption of hybrid (Smart) Working while others shunned the idea and/or called for a return to the office.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
According to the ONS figures, twice as many of us now work at home (9.9 million) as did prior to the pandemic. Post-pandemic, a return to the office has not been a full return as businesses realised that they could still operate effectively following their digital transformations with hybrid working practices. Some businesses have also reduced their office space following the move to home working, thereby making some savings, and those operating hybrid working have had to restructure their remaining office space to adjust to hybrid working.
The ability to work from home, however, is very much dependent on the type of job a person has, their position in a company and, as shown by Ofcom figures, their age (which may also be linked to their job). Home working by so many people has also posed many major challenges to businesses, e.g. security, culture, productivity, and managing remote and collaborative working. However, for many businesses, the move to home and hybrid working looks set to stay.